Republicans call for bear hunt in CT after attack

HARTFORD — Two Republican lawmakers said hunters should be allowed to kill black bears in Connecticut, after a hiker was knocked to the ground by a bear in Southbury over the weekend.

“We hope it doesn’t take a death for Connecticut to wise up and understand that a hunting season is the only way to get this population under control,” state senators Eric Berthel and Craig Miner said in a joint press release Monday afternoon.

Berthel’s 32nd district includes Southbury, where Saturday’s bear incident occurred, and Miner is the ranking Republican senator on the environment committee.

The lawmakers cited the death of a Rutgers University student who was killed by a bear in New Jersey in 2014.

“After that tragic incident, New Jersey adopted a successful black bear hunting season,” the state senators said.

Multiple news outlets reported the New Jersey hunts began again in 2003, after several decades on hiatus, and before the Rutgers student was killed in 2014.

New Jersey’s governor also took steps to limit where the bear hunt could take place last year, a decision that was met with pushback from both environmentalists who oppose the hunt and those in favor of it.

The state senators noted that fall is a time when “black bears are out foraging and getting ready for the winter.”

On Sunday, a hiker suffered non-life-threatening injuries after he encountered a black bear near Lake Zoar in Southbury. The 38-year-old Newtown man was able to escape, and the bear fled into the woods.

Biologists have set a trap for the bear, and state environmental officials have urged the public to keep their distance if they encounter one of the animals.

The state senators said they were relieved to hear the hiker “was not seriously hurt, however, we are concerned that, given the explosion in black bear population in the western part of the state, these incidents will only continue.”

The state’s environmental protection agency provides tips for hikers and homeowners who encounter bears.

Hikers should make plenty of noise while they walk through the woods, and consider walking in a group, to alert bears to their presence, the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection advises.

In the event they encounter a bear in the wild, hikers should back away slowly. If a bear approaches, wave your arms over your head and make a lot of noise, the agency said.

“Black bears rarely attack humans. If you are attacked, do not play dead. Fight back with anything available,” the state agency said.

To keep bears away from homes and campsites, birdfeeders should be taken down from late March through November, and when camping food should be stored in a car or suspended on a rope between trees.

The agency has recorded thousands of black bear sightings throughout the state over the past year, including two reported in Bridgeport.

Danbury reported 43 sightings between Oct. 1 of last year and last Friday; Stamford saw six bears sightings over the same time period, Norwalk saw eight.

Rural communities saw exponentially more bear sightings — in Avon, people reported 685 sightings according to the agency’s data.

Communities in the northwest of the state have the largest populations of bears, the agency said.

Citing the agency’s research, Berther and Miner said bear populations in that area of the state are increasing by 10 percent each year, noting that livestock and pets have been killed by bears.

They pointed to a “limited bear hunting season,” without specifying when the hunt would take place or where bear hunts would be allowed.

“If something isn’t done to properly manage the bear population, we feel a real tragedy is inevitable,” they said.